It goes without saying, but I'll say it regardless, that my Church of the Churchless blog posts reflect what I find interesting and what makes sense to me.
If you disagree with a post, naturally that's wonderful. You're you. I'm me. We're different people, so we're going to look at some things differently. Maybe a lot of things differently.
All I can do is explain myself as best I can, while all you can do is explain yourself as best you can in comments on my blog posts -- should you choose to do that.
So here's another try at explaining why I view mindfulness as being better than using a mantra, either in meditation or outside of meditation, which is what I did for the 35 years I embraced a mantra when I was devoted to the spiritual practice taught by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
I'll start by sharing what a friend said to me recently. She was meditating in the evening before going to bed. She likes the idea of oneness (as do I) and was getting frustrated with how her busy thoughts were keeping her from the inner quiet that she thought was needed to feel a sense of oneness.
Then a realization came over her: oneness means accepting everything, including her thoughts. Thus by viewing her thoughts as unwelcome, she was moving further away from oneness, while accepting them would bring her closer to oneness.
That happens to be a basic tenet of mindfulness, which typically is defined along this line: "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations."
A mantra, on the other hand, generally is used as a means to stop thoughts other than the repetition of the mantra.
That can be a way to practice concentration, a laudable aim. But it comes with a cost, since obviously when the mantra is the focus of attention, that leaves the mantra-repeater with less of an ability to focus on other things, both outside in the world and inside their mind.
In the case of RSSB, this was taken to an extreme. The mantra was composed of the five names of supposed rulers of supernatural regions of reality. By repeating these "Five Holy Names," the idea was that the consciousness of the meditator would leave behind the physical world and enter a higher one.
Thus this is an example of a mantra being a world-denying technique. RSSB disciples also were supposed to repeat the mantra as much as possible during the rest of the day outside of meditation, so long as they didn't have to concentrate on other things.
The "so long as" echoes what I've been saying in both my previous post on this subject, and this one. By its very nature, a mantra prevents us from paying full attention both to things out there in the world, and to things in here in our mind.
Imagine having an intimate conversation with someone who, while you're talking about something important to you, is mentally repeating a mantra instead of closely listening to you. If their mantra is "God," they're saying God, God, God... with their inner voice rather than focusing on you and what you're saying.
Aside from being impolite, this shows that a mantra can divide us from the reality both outside and inside us. It isn't quite like a child yelling at a parent "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!" as they stick their fingers in their ears after being told it's time to get ready for bed.
But it's damn close to that. I know, because like I said, for 35 years I did my best to repeat my RSSB mantra when I didn't have to concentrate on something else during my time outside of mediation.
I'll admit that during the latter part of those 35 years I repeated the mantra less and less, since by that time I'd come to realize that repeating it was distancing me from other people, nature, and many other things.
That said, I understand why a mantra appeals to people. It's a simple way of meditating. It's easy to repeat a mantra. If you want to stop unwelcome thoughts, a mantra can be an effective way of doing this.
However, I've come to view a mantra as being akin to the hard style martial arts I embraced for about 13 years during my karate phase. It can knock down thoughts and feelings with a sort of brute force. Often effective, it isn't very elegant.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is more difficult to learn than mantra meditation. It's akin to soft style martial arts like Tai Chi, which I've been practicing for the past 19 years. Mindfulness accepts whatever is present in reality, gently dealing with feelings, thoughts, and other things that need redirecting not through force, but by welcoming them as they are, then altering their direction with minimal exertion.
Again, though, you may disagree. This is just my experience.